When many of us were coming up in the martial arts, we learned about the power of praise when working with kids.
In fact, I was handed a piece of paper by my Sifu that was entitled “100 ways to Praise a Child”
He simply handed it over and said, learn these, then use them in class. It was basically, a list with 100 catchphrases, such as Awesome! Great Job! You really shined!
While I love my teacher like a father, I think that he saw the sheet as a sales tactic, something provided by some consultant that was guaranteed to plug the leaky bucket.
Fortunately, nowadays we have a far more sophisticated understanding of child psychology, and how various methods generate chemical responses within the child’s brain to bolster far deeper concepts than whether we are nice to them so they will stick around
We understand that there are different types of praise, and some are more effective than others… and some, it turns out, are retroactive to what we are trying to accomplish in the long term.
By using genuine praise in the right way, we can nurture a child’s self-view, increase their self-worth, and encourage them to find intrinsic motivation to become the best version of themselves possible.
We have learned, for example, that using praise (or even correction) to highlight an action rather than the child, we can have a far greater impact. The best way to do this is by using a concept called “Labeled Praise”.
For example, if a child gets a cookie out of a cookie jar, then realizes that the cookie jar is precariously close to the edge of the counter, and so pushes it back, we can praise what we see by saying, “Nice job!” The child just knows they did something right.
Perhaps they will extrapolate that it was the cookie jar push, but maybe the praise will get tied to their sense of accomplishment at getting a cookie all by themselves. You see, their motivations are not always ours.
If we label our praise, perhaps saying, “Nice job pushing the cookie jar back so it wouldn’t fall and break,” we help the child better understand what we are praising, and thus reinforce that action in the future.
But let’s take it one step further: If a child acts, and we label the praise in relation to the action, we are only reinforcing that particular action, thence relying on the juvenile mind to make the leaps to being careful in other venues and activities.
If we instead praise the character trait behind the action, we not only reinforce the action in the future, we instill a sense of worth in the child, and add that character trait to their self-identity.
So, when a child comes to class and works out very hard, but still has good kicks at the end, we can praise by saying, “Good Job!” We can label our praise by saying, “Good job having strong kicks!” Or, we can build an even better child by educating them with labeled praise targeting the character trait, such as, “Good job having great kicks even after a hard workout. That shows you have great Perseverance!” Now, kids in our Skillz martial arts program learn all about what perseverance means, so this further reinforces their ability to see themselves as a person having perseverance. Because they now identify as a person with perseverance, they will not only better understand the lesson, but better accept the praise in the way we as instructors meant it. They will also be able to then extrapolate many ways to show perseverance in everything they do, because it is very difficult for humans to violate their own self-image.
So, from now on, find a hundred ways to praise a child, but remember to label that praise so the child understands how to become better, and tie the praise to a character trait whenever possible to give them the foundation on which to grow into and even better version of themselves.
Let me know how it goes!
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